Visitors to Everglades National Park are often delighted with the memories a visit to the park or interaction with a park ranger creates, whether it’s an appreciation of the native plant communities wrapped naturally around the Ernest Coe Visitor Center, the art exhibits and art work in the visitor centers around the park and in other galleries around south Florida, a park ranger program, or countless other programs not so visible but critical to park operations.
Though these programs and personnel make experiences in south Florida national parks memorable, the general public probably doesn’t realize that many of these are only possible through donations of time and resources from a number of park partners.
In these tight economic times it should be no surprise that public and private organizations are relying more and more on innovative partnerships to achieve shared goals.
Everglades National Park is no different and has developed partnerships over the years with many local community groups and organizations as well as local governments to achieve shared goals of preservation, education, and enhanced youth opportunities to experience nature.
While some groups, like the Florida Native Plant Society, donate countless hours of time, other groups donate funds for a vast range of park projects and programs.
These groups are “partners” of the park, and without their support Everglades National Park would just not be the same!
Partnerships are not new to the National Park Service.
In fact, when the agency was created in 1916, its first Director Stephen Mather knew that building public support was essential for the national parks to thrive and grow, particularly with the limited resources afforded to the new agency.
Almost one hundred years later the National Park Service has an equal, if not increased, level of understanding that the success of our parks relies heavily on innovative and meaningful partnerships.
Among the park’s many partners is the South Florida National Parks Trust.
This organization has donated over 5 million dollars to the four national parks in south Florida since 2002 (Big Cypress, Biscayne, Dry Tortugas and Everglades).
This support has allowed the parks to ensure that more people, especially children, have an opportunity to experience these remarkable places.
The ranger program in your child’s classroom, enhanced environmental education programs in each park, boater education programs, and many other programs in each of the four south Florida national parks have been made possible by grants from this organization.
“The South Florida National Parks Trust provides fiscal support for projects that otherwise would not be funded” said Executive Director, Don Finefrock. “The Trust prides itself on our fund raising efforts that allow us to support important projects and in our outreach efforts to connect people to these special places. We believe that both of these methods of support are essential for the long term success of the park”.
Most American homes have a shelf or mantle that boasts memorabilia from trips taken and cherished.
Books, magnets, posters, t-shirts and other memorabilia that remind them of that great place they visited with their family or friends.
The Florida National Parks Association is the park partner that manages the park bookstores in south Florida where visitors browse for that special addition to their memory collection.
Throughout the National Park Service there are over 65 Cooperating Associations, like the Florida National Parks Association, who manage park bookstores and help to educate and orient visitors.
Since its inception in 1951, the Florida National Parks Association has provided over 3.5 million dollars in aid to the four National Park units in South Florida.
“Our bookstores are not just sales outlets. They are places where visitors can enhance their experience through purchasing educational materials that help them learn about the park’s unique resources. In return the proceeds of their purchase go directly back to the park” said Executive Director Jim Sutton.
Another organization dedicated to providing a different way to connect to the resources of Everglades National park is the Artists in Residence in Everglades, otherwise known as AIRIE.
This organization focuses on bringing artists into the park who produce a range of artwork in as many forms, including photography, painting, sculpture, sound, and dance, that will share the beauty of this landscape through art.
The AIRIE program offers artists the opportunity to live and work in this unique environment for a period of up to one month.
The works completed under this program contribute to the public understanding and appreciation of Everglades National Park.
It is hoped that these works will characterize the Everglades for present and future generations, giving park visitors and the general public an opportunity to see our heritage through the eyes, and ears of the contributing artists.
Park partners can sometimes be neighboring communities as well.
The City of Homestead has committed a number of resources to highlight its unique location nestled between two national parks at the edge of urban areas populated by millions of residents and tourists.
A recent project sponsored by the city is free public transportation into these two national parks and Bayfront Park.
The city offers this free trolley service every weekend to both Everglades and Biscayne National Parks from late November to April.
A park ranger or volunteer staffs each of these trolleys to provide interpretation on park resources along the way and answers visitor questions.
The city, recently designated as the “Gateway to Everglades and Biscayne National Parks”, created this pioneer program by expanding its already successful local trolley service.
In addition, both Everglades National Park and Biscayne National Park have partnered to offer free Park admission to those on the National Parks Trolley.
This ground-breaking project is the first of its kind nationally to offer public transportation to two National Parks.
As the National Park Service approaches its centennial in 2016, the park will continue to rely on our existing partnerships and look at ways to create new ones.
“Many of our most successful accomplishments have been a result of partnerships. Bringing other people and organizations to the table encourages the flow of new ideas, progressive thinking and ultimately successful collaboration in meeting mutual goals.” said Alan Scott, Chief of Interpretation.
To learn more about how you can support Everglades National Park visit us at http://www.nps.gov/ever/supportyourpark/index.htm.
Linda Friar contributed to this article.